April 29th, 2020
by Diana Natti Theriault
Windy Nights, performed by HMS Middle School Chorus
Text by Robert Louis Stevenson, Arranged by Cynthia Gray
On Friday, April 24th, the Hamden Middle School Chorus posted a Virtual Concert so that our community could share in the students’ hard work, and witness the talent in our Hamden schools.
Like all students in Hamden, in Connecticut, and across the country, the kids in the HMS Chorus were dealt a disappointment when their spring concert was cancelled. Students had worked hard, but had no way to showcase their efforts to the usual proud audience of family and friends. Mr. Balint (pictured), the HMS Chorus Teacher was determined to find a way to let the students’ hard work shine.
When distance learning began, Mr. Balint, like teachers across the world, was forced to ask himself how he could teach kids who he could no longer be in a classroom with. As a fan of composer Eric Whitacre, and his work creating virtual choirs, Mr. Balint immediately came up with the idea of creating a virtual chorus lesson.
Like he would in the classroom, he began by teaching each part to the students, but this time he did so by recording learning tracks. Knowing that not every student would have equal access to technology and software, he used a website (Online Voice Recorder) that could be accessed by all students via their school chrome book or any home device. He recorded himself playing the piano, and then singing each of the parts, and mixed them all together using Mixcraft 9. He sent the finished recording to all of his students with the instruction to listen, and then record their own voices singing along.
Over the course of two weeks, recordings started to trickle in as students completed the assignment. As they did, he would add each individual layer to the recording creating the powerful blend of voices that you hear in the video.
Currently Mr. Balint has 75 seventh graders, and 40 eighth graders in his chorus. Of those, only about 40 participated in this first video. He believes the numbers were low for two reasons, the first being that students everywhere are struggling to adjust to this new reality of distance learning, and also, many of his students were too shy to participate. He knows that performers are often uncomfortable hearing their own voice, and for those students, he is planning an alternate lesson. However, he hopes that if this first video is well received, it will encourage more students to join in for the next lesson.
The students who did participate thought it was a great way to stay connected, and show off their singing skills. Morgan Collins, an eighth grade student, said that she was glad that now “the eighth graders didn’t lose everything” by not having their final performance as middle schoolers. Morgan also thinks that “it’s so cool how Mr. Balint was able to put all the voices together”
When asked if he had any advice to give to his students, Mr. Balint said:
“Keep singing and stay engaged. This is not normal, and not what we are used to. None of us want to be apart, but with the technology available to us now, we are actually quite close.”